Five still missing after deadly floods sweep through California community

Lawrence Kim
January 14, 2018

A major north-south highway along the coast, US Route 101, was closed in both directions and not expected to reopen until next week.

The mudslide, touched off by heavy rain, took many homeowners by surprise early Tuesday, despite warnings issued days in advance that mudslides were possible because recent wildfires had stripped hillsides of vegetation that normally holds soil in place.

Montecito and Carpinteria are especially vulnerable to mudslides because the steep terrain in some places goes from thousands of feet above sea level to sea level in just a few miles, said Tom Fayram, a deputy public works director with Santa Barbara County. "The mud is acting like a candy shell on ice cream".

"We've got a window that's closing, but we're still very optimistic". They had a long slog ahead, filled with hazards seen and unseen.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown tried to explain the figures on Thursday, saying there are some disappearances actively being investigated as missing persons by detectives. Seventeen people were reported missing.

The cause of death for most of the victims will be listed as multiple traumatic injuries resulting from flash floods with mudslides, the Santa Barbara Sheriff's office said Thursday. "There's nearly always more" that could come down, Jibson said. "You can't even fathom what these poor patients went through to finally make their way to the emergency department".

County officials have already ordered residents in most of the southeastern corner of Montecito, an unincorporated community east of the city of Santa Barbara, to leave their homes for what they said was likely to be one or two weeks to aid the search and recovery efforts. Eight commercial properties were destroyed and 20 damaged. More than 50 people had to be airlifted to safety by rescue helicopters. Her body was found that night, near a highway hit by the slide.

"They're an adorable couple, and they were in love with their house".

Montecito - an enclave of about 9,000 people - saw most of the deaths. But it was the fire that led to the mudslide, by burning away vegetation.

By Wednesday, some 500 searchers had covered about 75 percent of the inundated area, authorities said. "I was frozen yesterday morning thinking, 'This is a million times worse than that fire ever was'".

"While some residents cooperated with the evacuations, many did not".

Thomas Tighe was outside his Montecito home when he heard "a deep rumbling, an ominous sound I knew was ... boulders moving as the mud was rising", he told CNN affiliate KCAL. "Now, it's just a hole", she said.

Farrell warned his parents inside, and within a minute, a boulder plowed through the kitchen door. "They're going to find bodies in the mud", said David Weinert, who feared two of his neighbors were among the dead and turned out to be right in at least one case.

Rescue teams, using dogs and scanners, have been working up to 12 hours a day and risked stepping on nails or shattered glass, or being exposed to raw sewage, or dealing with leaking gas.

The flow was so powerful it swept several homes off their foundations, crushed others and wrapped cars around trees.

A stew of floodwater, mud, tree limbs and other debris covered the highway in Montecito, making it impassable.

Many of those people have since been reported safe, according to Chris Elms, a spokesman for Cal Fire, but the number of people missing remains fluid.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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